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The Nose

Whiskey Wise

The City Paper Whiskey-Cam™

Posted 1/19/2005

The Nose learned to drink at our grandma’s knee, and she—ever the local loyalist—turned us on to two things: National Premium beer (especially the dark variety) and Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey. The former tap—an erstwhile Free State product—dried up in 1996, when we were privileged to sip from the last, musty keg at the Mount Royal Tavern. But the latter bottle, produced by Kentucky’s Heaven Hill Distilleries since its previous Maryland owners sold it off in the early 1980s, is still available at Mobtown’s more nostalgic haunts. In fact, the Nose has been known to pick a night’s roster of pubs to crawl based solely on who stocks the stuff—billed on its label as the “aristocrat of straight whiskeys,” distilled “under an old Maryland formula.”

After unstuffing our Christmas stockings on Dec. 25, then, we suffered mighty trepidation at Club Charles, where the saucy young bartenders (“Merry motherfuckin Christmas, motherfucker,” was their stock line of the night) informed a shocked Nose that there was no Pikesville on the shelf, and none to come. Since we’d been tasting our favorite rye there since we had more pimples than wrinkles, this news was drink-shattering. We settled for an Old Granddad, then huffed off to the Tavern, where they reliably serve Pikesville in topped-off rocks glasses—a neat feat if ever there was one, especially for the reddening Nose at closing time.

A few days later, we ambled back into Club Chuck and demanded an explanation. Our relief was as thick and sweet as molasses when the proprietor, Joy Martin, had a fresh bottle brought up from the stockroom. (As a bonus, Martin has added another rye—Old Overholt—to the shelf, the brand called for in a preferred recipe for a Ramos fizz, an eggy, frothy tipple she’s now offering on her drink menu.) The faux crisis, Martin went on to explain, had almost cost the bartenders their jobs. We hope not, for their Christmas sauciness more than made up for the lack of rye. And, honestly, hardly anybody at the Chuck seems to drink the stuff anyway.

On that last point, the Nose sought out an expert—Jim Burger, an esteemed local photographer/writer who recently penned an informative piece about Maryland ryes in Style magazine (“Comin’ Through the Rye,” September/October 2004). Burger’s treatise focused on the state’s ranking purveyors of Pikesville, based on numbers he obtained from distributors. The blue ribbon went to Nuzback’s Lounge in Laurel, with North Baltimore’s exclusive Elkridge Club taking the No. 2 slot. On the phone with the Nose, Burger dug up his research and informed us that Club Charles didn’t even rank in the top 10 of Pikesville vendors—though the Mount Royal Tavern ranked fifth in the state. After the Nose’s holiday scare, in the new year we plan—within the limits of health—to help boost the Chuck’s record without depriving the Tavern of its rank.

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Tags: booze, rye whiskey

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